The Pittsburgh Steelers are out of Latrobe and back at the UPMC Rooney Sports Complex, also referred to as the South Side Facility. We are already into the regular season, where everything is magnified and, you know, actually counts. The team is working through the highs and lows and dramas that go through a typical Steelers season.
How are the rookies performing? What about the players that the team signed in free agency? Who is missing time with injuries, and when are they going to be back? What are the coaches saying about what they are going to do this season that might be different from how it was a year ago?
These are the sorts of questions among many others that we have been exploring on a daily basis and will continue to do so. Football has become a year-round pastime and there is always a question to be asked, though there is rarely a concrete answer, as I’ve learned in my years of doing this.
Question: Will Zach Banner be in the mix to compete for the starting right tackle job?
Although the fact that he has played less than a season’s worth of snaps over the past two seasons was a huge factor in the Steelers’ decision to trade right tackle Marcus Gilbert as he headed into the final year of his contract, the other reason was, quite simply, because they had other options.
Potentially several options, in fact, including two players who have started a game there. Matt Feiler made 10 starts a right tackle in 2018 and played well. They drafted Chukwuma Okorafor in the third round and he was ahead of where I think the team even expected him to be as a rookie. And then there’s Jerald Hawkins, who would have been in Feiler’s place if he didn’t get injured in the spring.
But…what about the big man, Zach Banner? A 2017 fourth-round pick of the Indianapolis Colts, he didn’t stick to their roster that year but did catch on with the Cleveland Browns. He found his way into Pittsburgh last August during training camp and showed enough for the team to carry him all year on the 53-man roster, even though he was never active for a game (no, not even the game Okorafor started).
The kid—excuse me, the ‘guy’—is 6’8” and north of 350 pounds. He’s not going to be the most athletic lineman, but he’s a big man who can learn technique, showing his heritage as the biological son of Lincoln Kennedy.
I’m not sure what the thinking is inside the building, but I would like to think there is some excitement about Banner, given that they kept him on the 53-man roster even though they didn’t have to. There are plenty of times that they carried only eight offensive linemen, after all, and as I mentioned, he didn’t dress for a single game.
Feiler was the primary starter last year but he’s also one of the two interior reserves. The Steelers want Okorafor for push to start (you always want that from a third-round pick), so I don’t think the former is just going to be handed the job. And they know where Hawkins should have been this year.
I fully believe there will be a competition for the starting right tackle job. I’m just wondering how inclusive it’s going to be. They might even, amazingly enough, have too many options—which is exactly why Gilbert was, for lack of a better word, expendable.